Posted on April 22, 2014 by Trace

written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards,
Ranked at No. 32 in their list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ by Rolling Stone Magazine.  It is sung by Jagger as a first-person narrative from the point of view of Lucifer… 

article-1320761-0067959D00000258-737_634x4311971, Jagger & Richards in their rented Villa Nellcôte on the Côte d’Azur.

The song first appeared as the opening track on their 1968 album Beggars Banquet. Backed by an intensifying rock arrangement, the narrator, with narcissistic relish, recounts his exploits over the course of human history and warns the listener: “If you meet me, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste; use all your well-learned politesse, or I’ll lay your soul to waste.”  

Jagger stated in the Rolling Stone interview: “… it’s a very long historical figure — the figures of evil and figures of good — so it is a tremendously long trail he’s made as personified in this piece…”

In the 2012 BBC documentary ‘Crossfire Hurricane’, Jagger stated that his influence for the song came from Baudelaire and from the Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel ‘The Master and Margarita’ (which had just appeared in English translation in 1967). The book was given to him by Marianne Faithfull.

104405822-624x420-1352404985Mick & Marianne 

In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, Jagger said —
“I think that was taken from an old idea of Baudelaire’s, I think, but I could be wrong. Sometimes when I look at my Baudelaire books, I can’t see it in there. But it was an idea I got from French writing. And I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it. I wrote it as sort of like a Bob Dylan song.”

It was Richards who suggested changing the tempo and using additional percussion, turning the folk song into a samba.

At the time of the release of ‘Beggars Banquet’ the Rolling Stones had already raised some hackles for sexually forward lyrics such as “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and for allegedly dabbling in Satanism (their previous album, while containing no direct Satanic references, had been titled Their Satanic Majesties Request), and “Sympathy” brought these concerns to the fore, provoking media rumours and fears among some religious groups that the Stones were devil-worshippers and a corrupting influence on youth.

rollingstonesvilla1-930x6061971 Villa Nellcôte on the Côte d’Azur, France.

The lyrics focus on atrocities in the history of mankind from Lucifer’s point of view; including:

The trial and death of Jesus Christ – “Made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate”..

European wars of religion – “I watched with glee while your kings and queens fought for ten decades for the Gods they made”..

The violence of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the 1918 massacre of the Romanov family
“I stuck around St. Petersburgwhen I saw it was a time for a change/Killed the Tsar and his ministers/Anastasia screamed in vain”..

And World War II – “I rode a tank, held a general’s rank when the blitzkrieg raged, and the bodies stank”..

Also, the phrase – “Just as every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners saints” is a part of Mick Jagger’s philosophy..

The song goes right to the present time of 1968 with the lines –

The song was originally written with the line “I shouted out Who killed Kennedy”.
After Robert F. Kennedy’s death on 6 June 1968, the line was changed to:
“I shouted out, “Who Killed the Kennedys?”/ When after all it was you and me”..

On the overall power of the song, Jagger continued in Rolling Stone:

“It has a very hypnotic groove, a samba, which has a tremendous hypnotic power, rather like good dance music. It doesn’t speed up or slow down. It keeps this constant groove. Plus, the actual samba rhythm is a great one to sing on, but it is also got some other suggestions in it, an undercurrent of being primitive—because it is a primitive African, South American, Afro-whatever-you-call-that rhythm (candomblé). So to white people, it has a very sinister thing about it..

In an interview with Creem, Jagger said:

“When people started talking about us as devil worshippers, I thought it was a really odd thing, because it was only one song,  after all. It wasn’t like it was a whole album, with lots of occult signs on the back. People seemed to embrace the image so readily, and it has carried all the way over into heavy metal bands today.”


Of the change in public perception the band experienced after the song’s release, Richards said in a 1971 interview with Rolling Stone:

“Before, we were just innocent kids out for a good time, they’re saying, ‘They’re evil, they’re evil.’ Oh, I’m evil, really? So that makes you start thinking about evil… What is evil?
Half of it, I don’t know how much people think of Mick as the devil or as just a good rock performer or what? There are black magicians who think we are acting as unknown agents of Lucifer and others who think we are Lucifer. Everybody’s Lucifer.”
Source : where not stated above; a diluted wiki

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